Harvey hadn’t shown his face at Redwood Auto Mart and Service Shop for over a week. The first couple of days, his absence was a complete mystery among the other salesmen. Then, word came down from the boss that Mr. Harvey had injured himself in a “skiing accident” and wouldn’t be back until the following Wednesday.
Even after Harvey returned, bandages x-ing the bridge of his nose, deep red splits on his lips, new dentures, and two very serious black eyes, Bud kept his head down. When Harvey absolutely had to come into the shop on business, Bud ducked out the back for a cig. Occasionally Bud sensed Harvey’s eyes on him even at a distance from the car lot.
About a week after Harvey’s return, Bud found a message on his new machine at home—more articulate than the last—Harvey’s voice saying simply, “Hey, man, I’m sorry.” Bud tried to forget all about it and move on. It was over as far as he was concerned. Only problem was he had to work with the guy—and unless Harvey quit and moved on, which Bud wished the hell he would—he would occasionally have to interact with him.
Nights, Bud spent at Dilly’s Roadhouse. Alone in a padded booth. Eating his one meal of the day—a reuben and a dill pickle, with triple shots of scotch. He usually nursed his third drink till midnight, going through a pack of Winstons.
Then one night a kid came up to the table, ketchup stains on his T, and said, “Look, mister, we’re kinda crowded tonight. If all you wanna do is smoke and drink, would you mind moving to the bar? We’d appreciate it, sir.”
First time Bud heard himself called “sir.” He looked up at the boy. A timid waitress had sent him over—usually he worked behind the bar in the kitchen. The white, stained shirt was threadbare; Bud could make out the outline of the kid’s nipples underneath. The lettering cross the chest read, “Wrestling.”
He looked about 21 or 22, college age. He had big eyes and big biceps. Pouty lips and thick eyebrows—and a slender waist Bud hadn’t seen on himself in ten years. He looked about Bud’s height, too, 5’10”
“No problem. I was just leaving. What’s your name kid?”
“Matthew Vela. Matt, sir.”
“Glad to meet you, Matt. My name is Bud Shellen. Don’t call me ‘sir.’ Makes me feel like I’m in the army.”
Matt laughed shyly. Bud left a two-dollar tip on the table and walked out to his van, and waited.
(To be continued)